In the late 80’s, I was seventeen years old and freshly relocated from a podunk high school in a small town to a huge new school in the middle of Houston. I didn’t really know anyone there yet, and felt like an alien in a strange new world.
I still had good friends from my old school, but only saw them on weekends. I was a weird looking kid into weird music (mostly hardcore punk rock and thrash metal at the time) and while that had been enough to mark me as an outcast at my old school, nobody seemed to care at all in the new one.
I was like most boys my age, trying to find a comfortable spot in my own skin, trying to rebel a little bit, and trying to figure out exactly who I was. So I was basically a disaster as a teenager, a total mess. Pretty typical I’m sure.
Nevertheless, I’m sure I looked scary to some folks. I was a large, long-haired guy that wore Slayer t-shirts and leather jackets, maybe occasionally even sporting a pentagram necklace or something vaguely sinister that I’d picked up at a weird music culture boutique somewhere along the line. In a world of mainstream late 80’s high school kids, I was still one of the weirder ones.
But I was pretty much just a shy kid that would’ve liked to have made more friends. Maybe a little scary looking, but very harmless despite my attraction to dark music and horror movies.
There was a problem brewing however. In the 80’s there was a social phenomena called “The Satanic Panic” going in full force, and it was a witch hunt that claimed many innocent victims.
Somehow, a large number of extreme fundamentalist Christians, crazy people, and money-grubbing con men convinced enough people and law enforcement organizations that it was reasonable to believe that there was widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse happening around the country.
Many of those people thought any kid wearing a concert shirt or playing Dungeons and Dragons might be an agent of Satan, leading a double life as a murderous cultist waiting to sacrifice innocent Christian classmates to dark and unholy pagan gods.
In retrospect, the entire phenomenon seems ridiculous. Modern people made insane claims that, under even light scrutiny would’ve been proven impossible, and yet they were often assumed to be fact by the media and by some law enforcement agencies. Such an environment of hysteria, where outlandish claims were taken entirely seriously, and lives were ruined as a result? Yeah, the 1980’s had a seriously dark side to them. It wasn’t unseen devils or people killing because of their occult beliefs that made the decade that way. If anything it was the primitive religious folks who demanded that their simplistic view of good and evil be used to persecute others.
So back to me and my awkward teenage rebellion. I stood out, and I guess that in an environment where certain people actually thought Ozzy Osbourne was a Satanist, going to school wearing a Venom shirt was probably a good way to get the wrong type of attention.
After a few months at the new school I got it, and good.
I was sitting at my desk in History class when it happened. A stern looking toad of a man came in, whispered something to the teacher, and walked over to me, demanding that I follow him out of class. Turned out he was an assistant principal that I’d never seen. I hadn’t been at the school long enough to really know too much about its inner workings or faculty.
Principal McToad led me to his office, and I was met with quite an ominous scene. The head principal of the entire school, my father, and a campus cop of some kind were all gathered there. It looked like I was at my own funeral.
On the principal’s desk was the entire contents of my locker. They were picking through the pile like it was a crime scene, and any piece might be the vital evidence they were searching for. At the time I was drawing designs for a friend’s small skateboard company, so I had a couple of sketchbooks filled with typically sinister looking drawings. The types of things one might expect to see on a 1980’s skateboard – skulls, monsters, things of that nature.
Long story short, there was absolutely nothing criminal found, since despite appearances I was a pretty boring non-criminal kid. I hadn’t even snuck a beer at a party at that point in time. I mostly went to concerts with my equally non criminal friends, and hung out at arcades. We looked a little weird, and we listened to scary music and watched a lot of horror movies, but none of us was secretly killing babies under the full moon in exchange for magical powers.
In fact, I can’t speak for my other friends, but I personally didn’t believe in the reality of a Devil.
Since a giant sack of heroin or human skulls wasn’t found in the locker raid, I was suspended from school and then totally transferred to another school across town. It was all very traumatic at the time, and it screwed up my relationships with my parents. There was nothing fun about it at all. The upside was that the school I got sent to was some sort of magnet for weird punk rock and heavy metal kids, and I met some people that I’m still very close friends with today.
It turned out that the reason I had been taken out of class was that a religious cheerleader that I’d never met or talked to felt threatened by me. I guess she thought I looked scary. At that point of time in the 1980’s that’s really all it took to end up on the wrong side of things.
I didn’t even know her name.
So when I hear people today talking about “Satanic Ritual Murder” or how Satanists really DO run some evil network of baby sacrificing Hell factories I may laugh a little at the obvious bullshit they’re spewing, but I’m always mindful of just how dangerous that kind of bullshit can be.
When I see Internet fools tossing around crazy conspiracy theories that involve the Illuminati or Lizard People or just the old classic evil Satanists, I never forget that all it takes for complete paranoid fantasy to ruin a few lives is for enough people to believe that the patently unbelievable might be true. That Ronnie James Dio was a devil worshiper, that listening to Judas Priest albums makes teens kill themselves, that kids wearing black and listening to Metallica are the likely suspects when someone is murdered, that Dungeons and Dragons unleashes REAL black magic, and that demons actually empower every album that has scary lyrical content…there are people that believe these ridiculous fairy tales, and they are dangerous. Not the things they fear and rail against, but them. THEY are dangerous. We should never forget that.
I know people that are, for lack of a more specific name, actual black magicians of one type or another. You know what? The vast majority of them are no more criminal than the average Christian. In a lot of cases, far less so. Sure, there is the occasional story of some usually deranged, drug-addled loser that’s read “The Satanic Bible” and claims to be a Satanist that does something illegal, but nine times out of ten, that person isn’t affiliated with any real occult organization. They are often people that used to be Christians, and who still believe the mythology that they grew up believing in. They just switched sides because they hated their parents or something. A lot of the time they’ll find their way back into the fold once they’ve been sentenced to prison and feel the need for forgiveness. It’s all a very simple view of good and evil, of light and darkness.
But the ridiculous things that the types of religious people who think certain music is “Evil” believe about the occult and its connection to the world? It’s all bullshit. The actual devil worshipers out there are not interested in using Twisted Sister to snare souls for Satan, and guys like Marilyn Manson are trying to get paid and get laid. It’s very doubtful that they are trying to lead kids to eternal damnation, or even believe in it to begin with.
Most organized occult groups are not actively battling Christianity or trying to pave the path for Satan to take over the world. Those are the kinds of fantasies that certain kinds of religious people have. Where would be the evidence of these activities? In a D&D manual? In the liner notes to a Motley Crue album? Or all in the too bored minds of people with a simple and silly view of the world? I’ll let you guess which one I think is closest to the truth.